Traveling Light

Traveling Light

Learning to travel with just the essentials is an essential skill

There is a saying about preparing for a trip: “Lay out everything you need, then pack half and take double the money.”  While doubling your money might not always be the easiest path, cutting down the things we carry around with us can really make life simpler, especially when faced with transcontinental voyages like out fall trip to train in Japan. In this article I’ll be outlining some of the ways I’ve found to make my way smooth on the road, allowing myself to focus on the things we travel to see and do, not the things we bring with us.

I am by no means a minimalist, but when I travel I do my best to not be slowed down by unnecessary stuff.  On my April trip to Asia, I got by with one carry on bag and the clothes on my back. I enjoyed being able to skip the wait for luggage and being encumbered by large and unwieldy suitcases. After a thirteen hour-long flight, it was fantastic to be able to just get up and get moving.

The single most bulky and heavy sort of thing we pack is our clothing. Cotton is heavy. I have almost completely eliminated it from my travel kit. The reason why is because it is a terrible material for anything active. The stuff doesn’t wick water well — that is to say, cotton likes to retain moisture rather than remove it. What that means is when you sweat, cotton tends to cling to your skin and stay damp. Think of how long a pair of jeans will stay wet if not cooked in a dryer. Also, when cotton is wet, it provides no insulation. If you put those wet jeans on and go outside for an evening stroll, you’ll probably catch a chill. This is why outdoorsmen call cotton “death cloth.”

I have outfitted my travel clothing with two great fibers: wool and nylon. Low tech and high tech. Wool is an animal fiber that has been used for clothing for millennia; it is breathable and almost self-cleaning due to its lanolin, a natural oil that acts as a lubricant and protective coating. Wool will keep you warm even when sopping wet. My grandfather swore that his wool outfit saved him after being tipped out of a canoe into freezing waters during a New England hunting trip on a December afternoon forty years ago  Nylon and similar fabrics have come a long way since the leisure suit. Most of the time I train, I wear synthetic fiber t-shirts, socks and drawers. Nylon sports clothing is made to keep you dry and comfortable when you workout. That means its great for travel too. What this sort of material does is draw moisture away from your skin for it to evaporate. It tends to leave you drier when you perspire and allow your body to regulate temperature efficiently.

On a week’s trip in the autumn or spring I’ll take three nylon t-shirts, three pairs of boxers and five pairs of socks. All of these items can be washed out in a sink and hung to dry by morning. This is handy at the Azusa because the dryer does not heat and will eat up money spinning cotton clothes. A pair of worsted wool pants doesn’t need to be washed at all during a trip (if you swim through mud, you’d hang them to dry then shake out the dirt). For the trip I pack one pair of wool pants and a pair of hemp/nylon jeans (these sort of jeans wick moisture and can be dried out overnight after washing). I’ll also bring one light wool sweater and a short or long sleeved nylon shirt depending on what sort of weather is expected. I try to plan everything so all the clothes are interchangeable with no “outfits.” For inclement weather, I also take along a water repellant coat and a light wool hat. That pretty much covers all of my clothing for the trip.

I wear one pair of utilitarian shoes, broken in and comfortable for lots of walking. As a bonus, I found waterproof ones so I can play around in puddles. When traveling to Japan it is especially helpful to have slip-on shoes that don’t require lacing. They were my single most valued possession in Noda last year. For that trip, I carried a folding garment bag with a shoulder strap. It went over half full, knowing I’d fill it up with gifts and gadgets for the return. On my April trip to Tokyo, I downsized to a medium backpack about 2,500 cubic inches, or 20″x14″x9″. This bag had extra room, and I’m planning to use it for my next trip. I should have enough room to squeeze in my gi.

I have known people who are so obsessed with packing light that they bring old worn out clothes and discard them throughout a trip to make room for gifts. However you decide to pack, make sure that you are comfortable! If you need a big bag, get one with wheels. Carry it around the store for a while to make sure it is ergonomic, load it down with stuff to make sure straps don’t cut you. Make sure it is something you can take long walking trips with. Japan is a society of public transportation and cabs are prohibitively expensive. You will need to go up and down flights of stairs with your bag and transfer trains, sometimes running in between. When you are packing, ask yourself “do I really need this?” and “Can this serve multiple functions?”  Me, I like to be able to suit up and just go wherever and whenever I like. Remember we are training for real life. What do we do in training?  Move Move Move.always be ready to.

My packing list for Noda:

1-2500 cu inch backpack (Cerro Torre)
1-water repellant jacket with light liner (Filson)
1-hooded waterproof/windproof ultra light shell (Patagonia)
1-wool baseball cap (Filson)
1-pair waterproof slip on walking shoes (Clarks “Rainier”)
3-nylon t-shirts (North Face, Patagonia)
3-pairs silk weight nylon boxers (Patagonia)
5-pairs nylon or wool blend socks (Smartwool, Thorlos)
1-pair worsted wool pants (Filson)
1-pair hemp/nylon jeans (Patagonia)
3-handkerchiefs (these are great to have in Japan, where towels are not
always provided in    washrooms/bathrooms)
1-light wool sweater (Patagonia)
1-short sleeved nylon shirt (North Face)
1-litre water bottle (Nalgene)
-leather belt
-wallet with cash, credit card, phone card, passport
-small flashlight
-pair sunglasses
-digital camera with case
-notebook with pen
-neck pillow (for the plane)
-reading material
-travel guide with phrasebook
-Mp3 player, headphones, charger
-toothbrush, allergy meds, ibuprofen, toothpaste, shaving cream, lip balm

(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 10/21/05. Author retains all copyrights.)


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